China’s Ministry of Education said on Sunday that it will study how to establish a mechanism for dealing with sexual harassment on higher-education campuses after the high-profile dismissal of a Beihang University professor.

Chen Xiaowu was fired last week by the university after a former doctoral student posted an article on social media at the beginning of January accusing him of sexually harassing her and several other students. After the post went viral, the school launched its own investigation and found Chen had engaged in “sexual harassment behaviour.”

Chen previously told the Beijing Youth Daily that he had done “nothing illegal.”

beihang university
Beihang University. Photo: Wikicommons.

The ministry said that it would “absolutely not tolerate” actions by instructors that violate the bottom line of ethics and violate students, and that it would investigate every case it discovers. It added that it will study how to establish a protection mechanism with relevant campus departments.

Open letters

After Luo’s article went viral, women’s rights activist Xiao Meili wrote an open letter to her school, the Communication University of China, setting out a plan to prevent sexual harassment on college campuses. Xiao told SupChina that her open letter was deleted several times by WeChat and Weibo.

According to author Leta Hong Fincher, who attended a talk by Xiao and Feminist Five activist Zheng Churan on Friday, the activists said that students at 57 universities across China have signed open letters calling on their schools to respond to sexual harassment issues.

The activists added that some of the students who signed were summoned by Communist Party “advisors” on campuses, according to Hong Fincher’s tweet.

Feng Yuan, visiting professor at the Center for Women’s Studies at Shantou University, said the ministry’s announcement was very welcome. She told The Paper that she hoped the relevant departments would announce a schedule as soon as possible, and ensure that students, female professors, the All China Women’s Federation and gender equality NGOs were effectively involved in the process.

She said the mechanism should include a way to report and handle sexual harassment. “After experiencing sexual harassment, who they can tell, where they will receive understanding, receive support, receive relief from stress – and it must offer confidentiality and protection – this is very important.”

Sexual harassment at universities in China is rampant. According to a 2016 survey of 6,592 students and recent grads conducted by the Guangzhou Gender and Sexuality Education Center along with law firm Beijing Impact, 70 percent said they had been sexually harassed, but only four percent reported it to the school or to the police. The survey found that over 40 per cent of them experienced sexual harassment in public areas on campus. Among over 5,500 women interviewed, over 75 per cent reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment.

Furthermore, the media platform NGOCN compiled 13 known cases of sexual misconduct by instructors at Chinese universities over the past four years. The accused went unpunished in a third of the cases.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.